The VE series Holden Commodore might be ‘all new’
but we can tell you it isn’t convincingly the best in its segment.
Tested here in Berlina spec (a high-value model
that should attract private buyers), the new Holden brings fresh styling and
feel but its closest rival, the aging BA-BF series Ford Falcon, is definitely on
the same page in terms of performance, refinement, space - pretty well
The VE is a good car but it isn’tthe
knockout blow we were expecting.
So what are the VE’s strengths?
Well, there’s not much that can beat the new
Holden in terms of interior space. Front and rear passengers enjoy ample space
and the rear seat is wide enough to comfortably accommodate a bulky child seat in the centre and an adult passenger either side. Rear knee and leg
room are genuinely comparable to many Euro luxury limousines. Boot space is
equally gigantic and is very useable thanks to the twin strut boot lid support
and lack of rear deck speakers (which would otherwise eat into the cargo
The seats are comfortable and combined
with relatively soft suspension, this is the sort of car you can drive for hours
and hours without fatigue. The main controls are well laid out, the Berlina’s
Audi-style multi-function trip computer works well and the leather steering
wheel is comfortable to hold.
In normal light-throttle driving, the Berlina is
extremely refined – Holden have made huge NVH improvements with the 3.6-litre
Alloytec V6. It’s hard to believe it’s the same engine found in the superseded
VZ. At idle, engine operation is barely noticeable and in all normal driving
conditions it remains relatively quiet and refined.
The engine feels more responsive than in the VZ
and now with 180kW/330Nm (at 6000 and 2600 rpm respectively) there’s plenty of
grunt to overtake on the open road or merely leap ahead of that annoying taxi in
the next lane. We recorded a respectable 0 – 100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds.
The VE’s rack and pinion power steering is nicely
weighted and offers linear response – a big advantage over the rival Ford whose
steering becomes very quick away from the straight-ahead position.
Turn-in is quick and predictable and the chassis
feels solidly planted through corners. The Linear Control multi-link front and
four-link independent rear suspension soak up mid-corner bumps and broken
bitumen with no need for steering corrections. On mid to high speed corners,
the VE can be leant over with its front and rear outside Turanza tyres squealing
equally – indicative of a very well balanced chassis.
In tighter conditions the front-end will run wide
past the corner apex before the standard stability control intervenes. In the
dry conditions during our test, the stability control was very well behaved – it
doesn’t step in too early and stop you having fun but it effectively straightens
and slows the car when required.
So this is a very comfortable, refined car with
good dynamics and safety.
But there are problems.
The VE’s noticeably increased body strength brings
thicker A-pillars which can easily obscure a cyclist or an entire vehicle. The
thickness of the pillar and its proximity to your head is also annoying on
The ride is comfortable in 90 percent of driving
but there are a couple of flaws. On undulating high speed roads the damping
feels inadequate while short, sharp bumps (such as potholes) can cause
noticeable tyre thump. This is magnified by the Berlina’s 17 inch wheels with
low profile 225/55 tyres (the base-spec Omega rides on 16 inch steel wheels
wearing 225/60 tyres) but is most likely caused by the very high recommended
tyre pressures – 36 psi front and rear.
The upgraded brakes perform well in emergency
braking but we reckon a few first-time VE drivers might come near to
having a rear-end accident. The brake pedal in our test car often required more
and more pressure to achieve our desired rate of deceleration – not what you
want when approaching the back of a Mercedes-Benz...
And although the Alloytec V6 offers great
refinement in normal driving and more than adequate performance, it isn’t a
standout. The Ford 4-litre six offers almost the same smoothness at idle but
with greater effortlessness and a happier sound at high rpm. The Alloytec still
sounds a bit threshy at high load - though nowhere near the extent of the
In Berlina spec, the 180kW Alloytec comes tied to
an updated version of the old 4L69E four-speed auto. Compared to the five-speed
auto used in upper-spec models, this trans soaks up some performance and no
amount of recalibration can hide its age. The trans will occasionally clunk into
gear and our test car had an unusual driveline vibration when lumbering up hills
at low rpm. The lack of a sequential shift mechanism is also disappointing.
The integration of the Berlina’s six-stack CD
audio system and dual-zone climate control generally works well but some of the
controls are difficult to decipher. For example, there’s a prompt that appears
in the centre LCD display telling you to push the Enter button; unfortunately,
there’s no button with this marking... It turns out to be one of the audio
controls on the steering wheel.
The quality of our test car (which had obviously
done a lot of hard work) was also questionable. The centre console lid has a
cheap-o latch system, the stalk controls are clunky and the audio/climate
control display failed to operate on one occasion. The inside of the boot lid
also lacked any trim.
And what of the 1641kg VE Berlina’s fuel
We recorded 11.4 litres per 100km during our test
which comprised around 30 percent country driving. The trip computer showed
as high as 12.2 litres per 100km after a few short urban trips. This compares
closely with what we’ve achieved in the rival Ford but trails the Mitsubishi 380
by almost 1 litre per 100km. Whatever the case, the success of this entire
vehicle category will depend largely on future fuel prices. At the time of
writing, fuel prices had reached their lowest in more than a year -
but don’t expect them to stay that way...
Within the VE range, the Berlina stands out as one
of the best value buys. At AUD$39,990, it aces the base Commodore Omega with 17
inch alloy wheels, parking sensors, upgrade interior and body trim, a six-disc
CD, dual-zone climate control, side airbags, improved instrumentation and
Bluetooth connectivity – all for just AUD$3,500 more than the entry-level model
with air conditioning.
The VE’s pricing is very competitive – as is the
car. But despite what Holden’s advertising says, it’s not the car to
leave its rivals in the Stone Age.